Ralph v. Jones: The Gloves Are Off

Jones Apparel Group and Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. are suing each other over the bitter dispute involving Jones’ licensed Lauren businesses.

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Ralph Lauren

Photo By WWD Staff

Peter Boneparth

Photo By WWD Staff

NEW YORK — The battle between Jones Apparel Group and Polo Ralph Lauren Corp. got even nastier on Tuesday.

To the apparent surprise of Lauren executives, Jones walked away from the contested Lauren by Ralph Lauren license and filed a breach of contract suit against the Lauren company as well as former Jones president Jackwyn Nemerov, seeking $550 million, representing lost profits from sales, and punitive damages to be determined.

Polo immediately returned fire, filing its own lawsuit separate from any counter-claims it may have arising from allegations in the Jones suit. The Polo lawsuit seeks a declaration from the court that, as it has asserted, the Lauren license rightfully ends on Dec. 31, 2003, and reverts to Polo the next day due to the terms of a separate “cross-default agreement” executed by the parties.

The stage is set for one of the fashion industry’s juiciest legal battles, right up there with Warnaco versus Calvin Klein and LVMH Moët Hennessy’s skirmish with Gucci Group.

Surprisingly, Jones and Lauren initially appeared headed toward a peaceful resolution of their four-month dispute over the Lauren by Ralph Lauren license, as well as the Ralph by Ralph Lauren license. According to sources, Polo Ralph Lauren president and chief operating officer Roger Farah, his team and attorneys met with Jones’ chief executive Peter Boneparth and his attorneys Tuesday morning and were actively negotiating a purchase agreement for the licenses. During the meeting, Boneparth left the room, came back in and bluntly told the Polo people he had just filed a lawsuit, catching the Polo executives by surprise. Polo’s lawyers quickly left to file their own suit.

“The good news is we got the line back,” Farah said in a phone interview. “I’m unhappy it got a little messy here. We’ll be producing it for spring 2004.” Farah called Jones’ lawsuit “without merit, and we truly expect to prevail.”

As for Jones’s position, Boneparth told WWD: “This was the last resort. Litigation is nobody’s preferred strategy. We both believed we had reached an impasse.”

Jones also made a merchandising move, saying it would launch a Jones New York lifestyle label as a replacement for the Lauren line in spring 2004.
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